Penni Swartzwelder and 160 other property owners in Spokane’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood were half-expecting the notice that recently landed in their mailboxes.
It told them that a developer wanted to rezone 30 acres of choice property in the heart of the South Hill for possible apartments and commercial businesses. The land – south of 29th Avenue between Pittsburg Street and Southeast Boulevard – is owned by Dr. John Sonneland and his wife, Holly Sonneland. Right now, it’s mostly undeveloped and lightly forested; the Sonnelands have acquired the 30 acres throughout several decades, and the only occupied residence on it is their home.
“I figured it was going to happen eventually,” said Swartzwelder, who inherited her mother’s home at the corner of Napa Street and 34th Avenue, near the southern boundary of the Sonneland land. “Dr. Sonneland is getting up there,” she said of the 89-year-old retired doctor. Swartzwelder said she’d be distressed to see the property developed.
As it turns out, those notices were premature; Swartzwelder and her neighbors will see new notices during the next few weeks revising the scope of the rezoned area.
Reversing course, the family wants to rezone a smaller area of less than eight acres at the corner of Southeast Boulevard and 29th, not the entire 30 acres, said Stewart Sonneland, 55, one of the couple’s three sons. His brothers, Andy and John, also live in Spokane; their sister, Robin, lives in California.
The family says miscommunication with developer Steve Schmautz, of SDS Realty, is the reason the rezone application initially listed 30 acres. Schmautz owns a parcel of commercial property next to theirs at 29th Avenue and Southeast Boulevard.
Schmautz and the family discussed getting a zone change to allow commercial or mixed-use development in the smaller corner section, Stewart Sonneland said. The application would change the zoning from commercial and single-family residential to the higher-density, mixed-use option the city allows in “centers and corridors” areas like those near the Lincoln Heights Shopping Center.
Schmautz offered to help them with that rezoning application. “We said, ‘Great, that’s your expertise,’ ” Stewart Sonneland said. Schmautz is a developer, having restored the downtown Legion Building a decade ago, among other projects.
Then, about a month ago, Sonneland and his father were driving together when they came to the corner of Pittsburg and 33rd Avenue.
“My dad saw this large wooden sign at the corner and he asks me what that sign said. After looking at it, I realized that sign wasn’t supposed to be there,” notifying residents that the family’s entire 30 acres were potentially being rezoned, Stewart Sonneland said.
Andy Sonneland said he contacted Schmautz last week and asked that he submit changes to the application sent to the city earlier this year. Schmautz, at a Tuesday meeting of the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council, said that revised application is being submitted.
Reached by phone, Schmautz declined to discuss the matter. Stewart Sonneland said he’s sure Schmautz emailed family members about the rezone plans, and some of those emails likely included maps in attachments. “I must have received them but never bothered to click on the maps,” he said.
Because the four children “all lead busy lives,” no one was tracking the application submitted by Schmautz or discovered that all 30 acres were in the plan, Stewart Sonneland said.
Sonneland said the family is “chagrined” about unwinding the rezone request and leaving residents of the South Hill confused about their plans.
He added that future development of the remaining 22 acres will be moderate in scope and keep much of the green space intact.
The one part of the family land already developed is a strip of commercial buildings near 29th and Southeast Boulevard called Quail Run. The primary tenant there is Rockwood Clinic, at 2214 E. 29th Ave.
The rezone request first submitted to the city seeks a change from the land’s current single-family zoning to multifamily zoning that would allow apartment construction. That part of the plan has been removed in the new, smaller version.
Most of the eight acres in the new request belongs to the Sonnelands; it includes the land where Rockwood Clinic sits and the open lot east of it. The request also includes the corner lot where Schmautz owns a commercial building.
Any change in the zoning must undergo city planning review and be approved by the City Council.
Ken Pelton, the city’s principal planner, said the city has heard from roughly a dozen citizens about the zone change, with some saying they’re concerned about overdevelopment on the South Hill.
Many of those at Tuesday’s meeting said they were distressed to read documents submitted to the city suggesting the undeveloped land south of 29th would change from single-family residential to mutilfamily unit zoning. But Andy Sonneland assured the group at Tuesday’s meeting that residential area is no longer included in the revised application.
John and Holly Sonneland have twice refused deals that would have led to developments they considered inappropriate for the larger property, Stewart Sonneland said. Applebee’s was eager to build a restaurant on the south side of 29th, but the deal fell through after the couple wanted to add restrictions to the project, he said.
And Touchmark, the company that owns and operates the Waterford Retirement Community due west of the Sonnelands’ Quail Run, offered to buy the 17 undeveloped acres south of 29th that are zoned residential. “They offered a good deal of money, but my father said he didn’t like the density and the design Touchmark had,” Stewart Sonneland said.
The elder Sonneland ran unsuccessfully for Congress several times, losing to former Speaker of the House Tom Foley each time.
He also owned and managed Courtesy Communications, a Spokane wireless paging company.